New Delhi: The Allahabad high court (HC) directed the Uttar Pradesh government to return land acquired in three villages of Greater Noida, near New Delhi, where developers were building housing projects.

Farmers in some 60 other villages of Uttar Pradesh will not get back their land. The court instead ordered a high rate of compensation (64% of market price) to them as well as allocation of 10% of the developed land.

A file photo of construction site in Noida

The bittersweet verdict dealt a blow to the dreams of owning a home to some urban professionals who had invested their savings in the housing projects.

The acquisition was called a “deliberate violation" by the court, and it has asked the National Capital Region Protection (NCRP) Board, a statutory planning body for Delhi and surrounding areas, to conduct a probe into how the process went awry.

A special three-judge bench of the court reasoned that the land use was subsequently changed by the government from industrial use to real estate, thereby defeating the public purpose behind the acquisition. The court also held that the state used an urgency clause to complete the acquisition process, making it unconstitutional.

The court also directed the chief secretary of the state to look into how the land use was changed.

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The high court formed a larger, three-judge bench to examine whether the Uttar Pradesh government had wrongly invoked the urgency clause to acquire the land in three villages under the Land Acquisition Act, after previous two-judge benches had concluded otherwise.

The Uttar Pradesh government’s March 2008 notification said the land was “needed for a public purpose, namely for the planned industrial development" in Greater Noida.

The notification also declared that the “land is urgently required, for the planned industrial development in district Gautam Budh Nagar through the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority and it is as well necessary to eliminate the delay likely to be caused by an inquiry under section 5-A of the said Act", which allowed the government to skip crucial steps in the acquisition process, thereby causing the court to rule the acquisition illegal.

The farmers contended that the entire acquisition process was a “colourable exercise of power" by the government, although the majority of them had accepted compensation in lieu of their land being acquired.

The state filed an affidavit that said the possession of land was taken in September 2008 and January 2009, and “about 87% of tenure holders have taken compensation in accordance" with the law.

The Noida authority told the court it has so far constructed roads, laid down sewer lines, and installed power cables. It said that “green belts" and “group housing development works" were also done.

The Noida Extension Flat Buyers Welfare Association also joined the proceedings in court in an effort to protect their investments.

Supertech Ltd, Panchsheel Buildtech Pvt. Ltd, Amrapali Leisure Valley Pvt. Ltd, Nirala Infratech Pvt. Ltd, Artha Infratech Pvt. Ltd, Good Enough Education Trust, Amrapali Dream Valley Pvt. Ltd, Elegant Infracon Pvt. Ltd and Patel Advance JV are some of the developers involved in the case.

“We are of the view that since the allegations of the petitioners are that the authority is proceeding with the land acquisition mala fide without there being any genuine urgency or need for land and there is colourable exercise of power," the court said.

The court also imposed conditions before the master plan for the region can be executed. “We are further of the view that Greater Noida Authority cannot proceed to implement Master Plan 2021 till it is permitted by NCRP board."

“Greater Noida Authority shall ensure that no development by it or by its allottees be undertaken as per draft Master Plan 2021 till the same receives clearance by NCRP board. We make it clear that it shall be open to carry on developments by authority and its allottees as per earlier plan approved by NCRP board," ruled the court.

Justice S.U. Khan concurred with the judgment by justice Ashok Bhushan and explained why farmers were being paid compensation for having their land wrongly acquired. “We have directed payment of something more than market value to those persons whose lands have been acquired for secondary public purposes in order to make them sharer in the profit which is to be earned by industrialists and builders," he said.

Property developers expect that construction will start soon in about 60 villages in Uttar Pradesh where farmers will not get their land back.

“Hopefully, the work shall start soon after the clarification of detailed judgement by Greater Noida Authority, giving developers an opportunity to make up for the lost time in the remaining period of construction" said Pankaj Bajaj, president of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India, a consortium of real estate developers.